Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was efficient when allowed, safe when troubled but opportunistic when available on Sunday. His 76-yard touchdown throw to Mohamed Sanu was equal parts recognition and performance. A handful of pass rushers declared themselves prior to the snap. Dalton recognized the coverage (Cover Zero) and flipped the football to Sanu... who did the rest.
Dalton was fairly protected by Cincinnati's offensive line, as well as from Jackson's quick release schemes. Even without A.J. Green, (who left after five snaps in the first quarter) Marvin Jones or Tyler Eifert, the Bengals relied on Giovani Bernard, Sanu, Dane Sanzenbacher and even Brandon Tate, who hauled in a 50-yard reception from Sanu.
There were a few overthrown passes in the red zone that left points on the field, like going for field goals instead of touchdowns... and some of those field goal attempts going for nothing. All in all, strong effort. The best part: no mistakes.
The story of the game: Cincinnati's rushing offense was brutal, physical and effective. Cincinnati rushed for 170 yards against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday... the most since Nov. 25, 2012, when they punished Oakland for 221 yards.
Giovani Bernard ran 27 times for 90 yards -- the second-highest of his career. Jeremy Hill added 74 yards on 15 carries for a game-high 4.9 yard/rush average (among non-quarterbacks). Both running backs scored touchdowns on the goal line.
Holy crap. Andre Smith at LG, Andrew Whitworth at LT and Domata freaking Peko at FB and Hill running w/ power. Good fuggin' luck, Atlanta.— Cincy Jungle (@CincyJungle) September 14, 2014
It was supposed to be the resurgence of Matt Ryan. After completing 72 percent of his passes for 448 yards passing and three touchdowns last week, it appeared that Ryan and the Falcons high-flying offense was coming alive this season.
Only it took a significant nose-dive when detouring through Cincinnati.
Thanks to an intense blitzing scheme, fantastic tackling by the secondary and even better coverage, Ryan completed 54.6 percent of his passes for 231 yards and a touchdown. It was also Cincinnati's constant harassment of Ryan that dictated Sunday's win. The Bengals generated two quarterback sacks, nine quarterback hits, 12 passes defensed, 16 quarterback hurries and three interceptions.
It doesn't matter who you're playing... when your defense puts up those kind of numbers, you will win the game.
Aside from the various Matt Ryan scrambles and two surges by Jacquizz Rodgers that led to a 4.6 yard/rush average, Cincinnati's rush defense never faced much danger. Atlanta moved the ball at a 5.1 yard/rush clip but took to the air in the second half as their deficit began to expand.
By that point, the Bengals didn't have a reason to care for Atlanta's running game.
How can you not say "oh god, not again" when Cincinnati fails to convert a first down within field goal distance? Our confidence is shot. Mike Nugent, normally a sure-thing, has become an uncertainty after missing two field goals on Sunday and having another blocked last week.
That said, special teams wasn't bad. Maybe a tick better than serviceable? Devin Hester had a decent 29-yard average on kickoff, a fraction more than Brandon Tate. Adam Jones cruised to a 24-yard return in the first quarter -- but only accumulated two yards on the next two returns. Tate fair caught both punt returns he was in for.
However let's give a lot of credit to Dre Kirkpatrick. The Atlanta Falcons scored a touchdown with 8:41 remaining in the game, reducing Cincinnati's lead to a manageable 14 points. Cincinnati went three-and-out on their ensuing possession and punted from midfield. Dre Kirkpatrick slapped Kevin Huber's rolling punt from entering the endzone, where Clark Harris downed it at the two... a penalty on Atlanta pushed it to the one. The Falcons gained a first down but were forced to punt after gaining six yards. Cincinnati wiped out two minutes, leaving 2:31 on the game clock. Huber punted 37 yards to the four-yard line, where Kirkpatrick downed it himself. Atlanta would only reach their own 41-yard line.